Except for a long-planned overhaul of electronic meeting rules for state boards and commissions, the 2005 General Assembly generally maintained the status quo with the state’s various open-government rules.
Nine new exceptions got added to the Freedom of Information Act, bringing the total to 136 (100 for records, 36 for meetings).
The Judicial Inquiry and Review Commission got a records exemption for its ethics advice to judges – but only after dropping efforts to exempt itself entirely from FOIA’s disclosure mandates.
Local and state electoral boards were given an exception to keep voting records secure. Also, site visits to ensure voting-law compliance were removed from FOIA’s open-meeting rules.
A proposed switch to “opt-out” procedures for disclosure of citizens’ e-mail addresses got out of a House subcommittee, despite the opposition of subcommittee chair Chris Jones, R-Suffolk. The full House General Laws Committee buried the idea, however.
(Current access law defines e-mail addresses submitted to government as a public record unless a citizen asks for confidentiality; Del. John Cosgrove, R-Chesapeake, wanted that switched to a presumption of closure.)
Del. Brad Marrs, R-Chesterfield, tried to block Internet disclosure of doctors’ malpractice settlements. Lawyers on the Courts of Justice Committee killed the idea; the Daily Progress said in an editorial, “The medical malpractice problem deserves a solution. But not at the expense of consumer information.”
Del. Kirk Cox, R-Colonial Heights, began a two-year rewrite of the Public Records Act; the bill again emphasized that a public record cannot be destroyed unless the proper rules are followed.
As urged by Del. Sam Nixon, R-Chesterfield, and Sen. Jeannemarie Devolites Davis, R-Fairfax, the legislature reauthorized for another two years remote-access subscriptions for clerks’ records bearing a Social Security or financial-account number.
Proving he could sponsor a non-controversial bill, Sen. Bill Mims, R-Loudoun, removed from the divorce courts’ public records, online or not, any individual’s SSN or financial-account number. The change got unanimous approval in House and Senate.
Once again, House leaders blocked Webcasts or telecasts of House floor sessions, as urged by Del. Ward Armstrong, D-Henry County. (The Senate’s sessions are available on a Richmond public TV station and by Internet statewide; skies have not fallen.)
Virginia Beach Del. Bob McDonnell, GOP candidate for attorney general, urged approval to bring more sunshine and open government to the House. Del. Steve Landes, R-Augusta, agreed.
Other Republicans voted no.
Del. Chris Saxman, R-Staunton, restored free-speech rights for state employees when discussing matters of “public concern” with government issues.
Special e-meeting rules for the University of Virginia’s Board of Visitors got extended another two years, despite Sen. Edd Houck’s protests that the university needs to play by the same rules as all other state bodies.
Legislation outlawing “droopy drawers” got a mercy killing at a special called meeting of a Senate committee, but not until after it got ridiculed around the globe.